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Media Freedom and Pluralism

Beata Klimkiewicz

Section 3: structural regulation: media pluralism, concentration, diversity of content and services

Chapter 12. Which Governance for the European audiovisual landscape? A Multidimensional Perspective

Gianpietro Mazzoleni et Fausto Colombo

Texte intégral

  • 1 The authors want to thank Anna Sfardini and Simone Carlo for their valuable collaboration in the co (...)

1Note portant sur l’auteur1

12.1. The new European audiovisual scene

  • 2 This is witnessed by the efforts of the researchers and historians of the Massachusetts institute o (...)

2The increasing complexity of the contemporary media landscape, undergoing digitalization and convergence, has made it urgent to rethink the media change and to look at it beyond its simple technological dimension.2The “paradigm of the digital revolution,” employed to emphasize the transformative aspects of digital technology, has given way to the “paradigm of convergence,” more apt to represent the multidimensionality of the media change processes, the role of the subjects beside that of the technologies, the mechanisms of hybridization and remediation between old and new media.

  • 3 This model is proposed by Colombo and Carlo, 2007.

3Briefly, we start by regarding the single medium, in a given historical period, as a transitory balance between a mix of social dimensions, which overtake the medium itself, but also shape it and are shaped by it. This argument could be represented as follows:3

4The technological frame concerns invention, the development of hardware and software, the drawing up of standards and their life cycle, and the technological mix available to households. The economic framework refers both to the economic approach to production and consumer behavior and to the business models, market dynamics, financing mechanisms, and production organization. The institutional regulatory framework includes the principles and the laws, but also the parties and the real power relations, in the media domain, and takes into account the increasing interaction of national and supra-national institutions, such as the European Union. Finally, the cultural framework concerns the forms of cultural transmission and the trust placed in them, as well as the preferential content considered socially relevant.

Figure 12.1. The multidimensional media model

Figure 12.1. The multidimensional media model

5In such a model every change inside a single frame affects the en-tire system. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Italian radio landscape changed technologically (with the introduction of the transistor and the spread of Citizen’s Band radio), institutionally (from monopoly to some competition), economically (from financing by license fee to financing through advertising), and culturally (new schedules and content, new language, new listening habits). Each dimension helped prompt changes throughout the field of radio broadcasting, giving birth to the New radio.

6In Europe, television has undergone significant changes that have enlarged its market in terms of content, distribution, and structures. In particular, we have witnessed a transition from the dominant broadcasting model, PSB (Public service Broadcasting), to the commercial one, especially through the inauguration in the 1980s—and explosive growth in the 1990s—of satellite and cable services.

7Today it is above all the imminent switchover from analog to DTT (digital Terrestrial Television) that represents the turn to television with many channels. It should be noted, however, that despite the diverse diffusion of the audiovisual platforms, the content market appears less developed. Europe is characterized by many language markets and cultural traditions that represent an objective barrier to a fluid exchange of European-based content. This forces the various countries to keep the level of internal circulation of content low, thus favoring U.S. productions (Steemer, 2004).

8Consequently it is almost impossible to draw a “European map” of the changes underway. It is easier to track only a few trends common to countries that are more “similar” than others, but that inevitably hides the differences. With respect to digital television and thus to the rise of a multiplatform environment, the various analyses emphasize the crucial years 2007–2012 for the definition of a convergent, multi-channel, multi-platform environment. Among the trends described in the forecasts on the European marketplace, two points should be emphasized:

  1. the progressive growth of the multi-channel environment on the existing platforms, and also of the FTA (free-to-air) with the takeoff of the DTT, especially as pay (DTH, but also IpTV & MobileTV), as part of the more complex mid/long-term trend that has shown pay TV as the principal driver (see Figures 12.2 and 12.3);

  2. the definition of a normative frame oriented to technological neutrality and to the extension of the publishing subjects (thus, more competition of platforms), but also as a push to agreements and alliances for content distribution on different platforms.

9With respect to the spread of digital cable, IpTV, and “multi-play” (see Figure 12.4), the platform “broadband cable” appears to be a reality under consolidation in the European domain, with 100 million households reached by cable, 64 million receiving cable TV services, and 7.1 million receiving cable-carried digital TV (9 million internet; 7.5 million telephony) and thus able to prompt the diffusion of the “triple play” model: data, TV, and telephones (+ wireless) (see Figure 12.5).


Figure 12.2. Multi-channel environment in Europe: number of channels in the European TV landscape

Figure 12.2. Multi-channel environment in Europe: number of channels in the European TV landscape

Source: Booz Allen & Hamilton/Screen Digest

Figure 12.3. Digitalization of TV in Europe

Figure 12.3. Digitalization of TV in Europe

Notes: The reach of Digital TV in Europe has reached 55,6 million households /tv in 2005 (33.3%).

Source: ITMedia Consulting

Figure 12.4. Penetration of Cable in Europe (2005)

Figure 12.4. Penetration of Cable in Europe (2005)

Source: Screen Digest / Cable Europe Yearbook.

Figure 12.5. Triple-play model (2005)

Figure 12.5. Triple-play model (2005)

Notes: Earnings of the cable platforms in Europe: 17,2 billion euro, 2/3 of which from TV services.

Source: Screen Digest / Cable Europe Yearbook.

12.2. The concepts of pluralism and concentration

11The rise of the new media and digitalization have laid the foundation for a far-reaching change in media systems. This change is driven by the different players that operate in the contemporary media environment: multimedia conglomerates (on the supply side), public institutions (on the regulation side), and consumers. The European media transition is not an orderly or inevitable process, led by an array of new ICTS (information Communication Technologies). Instead, it is a complex phenomenon in constant tension.

12Today, at the global level, we are witnessing a phase marked by tactical decisions and unforeseeable outcomes, as well as by strong competing interests. Europe is experiencing concentration and trends repositioning media in all sectors, amplified by the diffusion of new-generation networks (landline and wireless) that allow for the provision of convergent services and the sale of integrated/premium services. This trend toward concentration has drawn the attention of public authorities domestically and internationally. One important question is how to manage the evolution of an economic domain without the risks of dominant positions and concentrations, but instead with functional efficiency of the system offering competition among players with consequences on the quality and the cost of the services offered.

13Among the risks that concern authorities are the concentration or mono/oligopoly of the platforms. The digital-multiplatform environment forces the redefinition of strategies adopted by the market players along the competition/alliance/conglomeration axis. On the one hand the rise of the offer, the fragmentation of the market, and the “technological neutrality” prompts stronger competition between the old players (i.e. broadcasters) and the new ones (content providers). On the other hand, it compels the building of alliances (for example, between publishers and TLC (Telecommunication) companies for the distribution of content on diverse platforms) or to build larger conglomerates (like news Corp’s expansion policies, presently focused on the net and the IpTV).

  • 4 Since the early 1990s the discussion on media pluralism has played an important role within the Eur (...)
  • 5 On the initiatives, research groups and documents concerning the issue of media pluralism/concentra (...)

14The issue of concentration versus media pluralism is one of the hottest in the debate over media-market regulation.4The defense of pluralism is indeed considered a pivotal factor for democracy, to the point that the EU decided to defend it like the traditional rights to information and freedom of expression, as stated in the Charter of the Fundamental rights of the EU (article 11).5Media pluralism is a concept that covers different issues, including the diversification and regulation of ownership, the variety of information and content resources, the development of new communication technologies and services, the regulation of licenses to broadcasting, and the protection of PSB.

15However, the issue of ownership is the most debated aspect of the concentration/pluralism dynamic, because it is considered the most important precondition for the diversity of opinion. The concentration of ownership may lead to exclusion or under-representation of certain voices of the public debate, and to favoring others, clearly abusing political and commercial power.

16The EU merits the protection of media pluralism, seen as a principal guarantor for citizens’ access to the diversity of information and opinion sources. As K. Jakubowicz (2006b) observes, if we want to identify clearly and to resolve the question of the protection of media pluralism, it is necessary to come up with “a broader approach, covering a much wider range of issues which bear on the question of pluralism of content” (Jakubowicz, 2006b).

17If media pluralism is a crucial issue in the international discussion on media policy, it is also true that the interpretations given to this concept vary a great deal, as well as the proposals to make it operational. Pluralism (and the risk of media concentration) is associated with different issues, according to political and cultural contexts. During the Liverpool audiovisual Conference (September 20–22, 2005), the Working Group 5 focused on this topic, struggling to reach an agreed definition, especially vis-à-vis the diversity of interpretations that characterizes the new members.

18We are facing a complex period in which the old and the new media cohabit; new and old European regulations coexist, and different ideologies clash. On the one hand, there is a normative ground, with rationales rooted in social-democratic ideology, emphasizing a market-correcting regulatory approach and strong PSB institutions. On the other hand, there is a normative expectation, rooted in neoliberal ideology, that a deregulated telecommunications market will gain priority, accompanied by trends of liberalization, tax reduction, and subsidies. Media regulation faces the challenges of this contradiction. The most urgent issues include the delicate interaction between the media and political powers; the impact of concentration on economic competition and the quality of content; the safeguarding of PSB as a key player in the pluralism/diversity game; and the problem of transparency of ownership (especially acute in the new Member states).

12.3. The revision of the TVWF directive

19The two traditional regulatory tools used by European bodies for media and audiovisual policies are the TVWF (Television Without Frontiers) directive, adopted by the EU, and the European Convention on Transfrontier Television, adopted by the Council of Europe. Both were adopted in 1989. The TVWF aimed to guarantee the free circulation of broadcasting services within the borders of the EU. It also sought to safeguard some key public interests, such as cultural diversity, consumer protection, the protection of minors, and the promotion of the production and distribution of European television programs by defining quotas. The broadcasters were asked to reserve at least 10 percent of their transmission time, and 10 percent of their budget, for European works made by independent producers (article 5).

20On December 11, 2007, the European Commission, in response to the technological changes that have brought about new conditions for the competition in Europe, adopted the long-awaited audiovisual Media services directive (European Parliament and the Council, 2007) that amended the existing norms following the dramatic technological and commercial developments in the field. The directive aims to mitigate the differences in the regulations among the different distribution devices (such as analog TV, video on demand, mobile TV, and new media advertising). The directive introduces a new distinction between the “linear” services (based on scheduled programs, subjected to obligations similar to those considered by the TVWF) and “nonlinear” ones (TV, information, audiovisual services on demand).

21According to the AVMS directive, the filmmakers (cinema and TV) will have greater flexibility to produce digital content that can be provided to consumers free of charge, thanks to advertising. The directive also reaffirms the pillars of the European audiovisual model based on protection of cultural diversity, minors, consumer rights, and media pluralism, as well as a ban on racial or religious discrimination. It also aims to strengthen the competitiveness of the European audiovisual industry, allowing providers to exploit the advantages of the internal market, independently of the technology employed.

22More flexible norms are foreseen for traditional TV broadcasting, taking into account technological developments and changes in viewers’ habits. As regards the issue of media pluralism in the 27 Member states, the new AVMS directive is designed to open the domestic media markets to stronger competition from other EU countries, in order to further diversify the offer of TV/AV content on demand across Europe.

23The pivot of the new EU policy continues to be the principle of the “country of origin,” much as in the previous 1989 directive. This principle was indeed crucial in promoting the satellite trans-frontier television and in the progressive diffusion of pan-European TV channels. In the future, following the same principle, the audiovisual service providers other than TV channels (e.g. video, news, sport on demand, or content that can be downloaded on mobile devices) will be allowed to follow their own domestic regulations.

12.4. Some critical reflections

24The overall regulatory institutional frame of the traditional media, telecommunications, and new audiovisual services—comprising regulations, laws, and various players at different levels—is characterized by increasing interaction between the supra-national, European, and national institutions.

25This situation calls for a general re-thinking of the whole governance of the media development in Europe vis-à-vis the differences among the domestic-oriented national legislations and the regulations and institutions at the EU level. Obviously no one claims a sort of political determinism. What is needed is the discarding of the utopia (or dystopia) of a market that governs the media development only on the basis of supply-and-demand dynamics, or of a technology that imposes itself only by means of its innovative strength.

26This changing landscape reveals several problem areas. In the first place, players with divergent stances employ contrasting tools for intervening in the “battlefield.” For example, a comparative analysis of digitalization involving several countries can identify the differences and similarities between the national systems, and as a result, display the heterogeneity of the roads to digitalization as well as the implementation of incentives to technological innovation. it is not by chance that a central issue in public debate is the question of the “digital divide,” a debate that, by virtue of its political-strategic nature, clashes with the complexity of the underlying problems in a transnational-multidimensional perspective.

27Second, the heterogeneity of the European population in terms of language, age, income, education, and digital and media skills is a serious problem that the European institutions cannot face without repercussions. Moreover, the idea that the ICT system should be governed with a free-market approach in order to work well and to reduce distortions (from the supply side, the concentrations, and from the demand side, the digital divide) is questionable for two reasons. First, if governments and legislators choose not to establish rules correcting the (free) market operations, the consequences and implications would be as worrisome as if they decide to work out binding rules. Second, the idea that the governance of the information society should be based on interventions that touch upon the sole economic domains would entail the omission of other phenomena that compose the multi-dimensional character of current communication development. To understand these aspects, we should examine the relationship among the four frames of the multidimensional model presented here, which displays the dynamism of the media “object,” at the center of balancing forces that rise and develop in society.

1) Media between institutions and economy

28It is unthinkable to reflect on media without taking into consideration the capacity of institutions to mold the dynamics of the market, and vice versa. This two-way dynamic is extremely evident, for example, in Italy, where legislation on media has heavily influenced the structure of the market and business models. Such influence has come from both the presence and, above all, the absence of legislation. One example is the rise of commercial broadcasting: The lack of regulation in the 1970s and 1980s led to a fierce war to seize transmission frequencies. In this “Wild West,” the strongest (like Berlusconi’s Mediaset) were eventually the winners. Another example is the more recent regulation regarding the digital changeover: The law passed by the Berlusconi government allows for existing players (public and private) to preserve the oligopoly of frequencies.

2) Media between economy and technology

29The economy-media-technology relationship has a specific dynamic: it is not always completely rational but instead is profit-oriented. It is interesting to follow what forces prompt the market to back a given technology and given standards. The case of digital terrestrial in Italy is again an enlightening example. It has helped the diffusion of interactive decoders, thus keeping the sale price affordable but blocking the path to the subsequent development of evolved on-demand services.

30In fact, the decoders marketed in the domestic market are relatively inexpensive due to their simplified technology (they are not equipped with a DSL connection). This makes them unsuitable for complex on-demand and interactive services based on broadband connections. The result is that DTT decoders in Italy still remain only a “moderate evolution of television” and not a new home platform for services of the ICT world. The primary goal of the policymakers has been to speed the obsolescence of analog television. This choice has damaged the development and diffusion of new, more sophisticated services.

3) Media between technology and culture

31The dynamics of this relationship have to do with the willingness to accept technological innovation and resistance to it, the interest in the content it conveys, and the ease and methods of adaptation, reflecting the capacity of technology to establish a dialogue with the society that accepts it. From this perspective it is extremely interesting to note the diffusion of digital terrestrial in Italy, after years of the centrality of television in Italians’ media diet. leaving aside the rhetoric of DTT as an ICT platform at low cost, the capacity of digital terrestrial television to be absorbed as a profoundly audio/televisual technology reveals the strength of the experience of technology that clashes with the persistence of the traditional view of television as a tool to educate the public.

4) Media between culture and institutions

32This relation can be described by the intersection among culture, media, and institutions, reinforcing the role of the communication media as cultural agencies, but also reaffirming the links with the institutions and the laws, and shaping the level of public trust and participation. What emerges from these interconnections is not only the media statute (is it more socially relevant to have access to the internet or to digital television?), but also the role institutions must play in the governance of a media system. Let us take the idea of public service: The idea that a community, through the license fee, contributes to the financing of one or more public networks is directly connected to the theme of faith in institutions but also in the statute of the communication media to operate as an agency generating sociable behavior and citizenship.

5) Media between institutions and technologies

33There is a naive and deterministic belief that technologies advance on independent tracks, speeding up and slowing down depending on the internal characteristics of innovation. In reality, in the race towards the diffusion of a technology, the regulatory and institutional dimension often intervenes decisively, either for or against. One notable case is policymakers’ handling of the development of DTT in Italy. An entire regulatory system was oriented toward the diffusion of a technology, reputedly the most profitable not only for its intrinsic technical features, but above all because it was considered most suitable for easing the digital transition and for maintaining the market’s existing ownership structure.

6) Media between economy and culture

34The dynamics that in the media domains describe the intersection between economy and culture concern the framing of economic behavior in cultural environments. It may be useful in this context to reflect, for example, on the value attributed to the premium programs of DTT. Italian consumers seem to assign an adequate value to the cost of this content, particularly for soccer and movies. The reason might lie in Italy’s satellite and cable television history. The introduction of paid services, in the context of the provision of free commercial television, eventually convinced Italian consumers that certain content (such as movies) could only be enjoyed when paid for. So DTT once again has not been perceived as a low-cost ICT platform, but rather as a cheap television service, capable of fulfilling contingent needs. The pay-per-view mechanism has readily been made familiar to consumers by the enormous diffusion of prepaid mobile phone cards.

12.5. Conclusion

35This chapter has discussed whether new television/ICT systems should be governed by a free-market approach in order to work properly. The EU “free-market model” policies treat the medium according to its economic and technological dimensions. For these media policies, the main instruments to govern the media appear to be the management of digitalization (switchover, subsidies for consumers and producers to push technological transition) and the control of market concentration and competition.

Figure 12.6. Free market media model

Figure 12.6. Free market media model

36We argue that the regulation of the system, to prevent distortions typical of an oligopolistic market but also to reaffirm the cultural implications of media systems, is a necessary condition for solving the problems of access to the information society and, in general, for rethinking the role of PSB in promoting citizenship.

Figure 12.7. PSB model

Figure 12.7. PSB model
  • 6 In 2004–2005 the Italian government offered €150 to consumers purchasing a DTT decoder. In some cas (...)

37We think it is impossible to implement a true governance policy of the (new) media without understanding the multi-dimensional nature of the media system. it is naive dirigisme to consider building an effective new media policy only with legislative tools, for example with the aim of reducing the risks of pockets of “technological depression,” without a clear idea of how the economic, cultural, and technological dimensions are related. To govern the change, one must comprehend all four dimensions of the process. It is no coincidence that the most advanced innovation rates are in the Nordic countries, which have a long tradition of public intervention (welfare). By contrast, a negative example is the Italian case of the public subsidies for the diffusion of DTT, which reveals an outdated public dirigisme.6

38A new policy for digital media is needed to help various EU countries avoid widening the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots,” possibly by governing media development in a way that takes into ac-count the specificities of individual (national and local) contexts, but at the same time makes it a priority to fill the digital gap.

39The new digital technologies demand decisiveness in choosing and promoting infrastructures (broadband, Wi-max and the like), and in the concessions of licenses for content provision and technological solutions to private players. In such a media landscape, each of the two models has limits in fulfilling the new exigencies. The PSB model is based on the idea that the state should create the conditions for diffusions (i.e., the network), as well as ensure the diffusion itself and the production of content. The market model entrusts this all to private players and marketplace competition.

40One concrete solution would be for the public intervention to focus on the technological dimension, restraining its content-production function to a limited set of content (such as information and culture) and allowing competition on the content marketplace. It could then concentrate on regulating a balanced distribution of advertising revenues among different media and different players. This solution would allow players more freedom of enterprise and ensure real competition, thanks also to the decrease of entry costs to the media market, once the infrastructures begin to be set up. The balance of the system should be guaranteed by a sort of regulated competition, based on the public control of infrastructures’ universal service, as well as on the existing anti-trust and freedom-of-information laws and norms. On this last point, the multiplication of players and channels evidently benefits from wider access to the content market, as witnessed by the wide network of news/information blogs on the Web and by the phenomenon of “citizens’ journalism.”

41In conclusion, concrete difficulties and many stumbling blocks undoubtedly await us on the road to a European governance of the new media system. Nevertheless, opinion is largely united behind a Europe-wide harmonization of the normative framework regarding the infrastructures and media content needed to strengthen European culture without obstructing the development of local cultures.


42DSL (digital subscriber loop or digital subscriber line) is a transmission technology that distributes data (e.g., internet services) via local telephone network.

43DTT (digital Terrestrial Television) is a standard for digital broadcasting television that uses aerial broadcasts. Thanks to the digital transmissions, dTT allows a better quality of sound and picture and the possibility to increase the number of broadcast channels. DTT is received via a new digital set-top box.

44FTA (Free-to-air) is a kind of television and radio digital service that may be received without subscription and for free.

45DTH (direct-To-Home) is a kind of television satellite service that allows the reception of analog or digital programs with a small dish antenna and a decoder.

46IpTV (internet Protocol Television) is a television cable service that allows the reception of digital programs (in particular on-demand) via internet broadband connection.

47Mobile TV is a television service distributed to subscribers via mobile telecommunications networks.


1 The authors want to thank Anna Sfardini and Simone Carlo for their valuable collaboration in the composition of this chapter.

2 This is witnessed by the efforts of the researchers and historians of the Massachusetts institute of Technology engaged to rethink the media change. See Gitelman and Pingree, 2003; Jenkins and Thornburn, 2003a and 2003b; Jenkins, 2006; and Gitelman, 2006.

3 This model is proposed by Colombo and Carlo, 2007.

4 Since the early 1990s the discussion on media pluralism has played an important role within the European Union. It started in 1992 with the consultation on the Green Paper “Pluralism and Media Concentration in the internal Market: an assessment of the need for Community action” and was developed in the issue papers and during the audiovisual conference in Liverpool (September 2005). Meanwhile the European Parliament has continued to show concern over a number of resolutions. See Klimkiewicz, 2006.

5 On the initiatives, research groups and documents concerning the issue of media pluralism/concentration, in particular from the Council of Europe perspective, please refer to Jakubowicz, 2006b.

6 In 2004–2005 the Italian government offered €150 to consumers purchasing a DTT decoder. In some cases the incentive covered the whole cost of the decoder.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 12.1. The multidimensional media model
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Figure 12.2. Multi-channel environment in Europe: number of channels in the European TV landscape
Crédits Source: Booz Allen & Hamilton/Screen Digest
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Figure 12.3. Digitalization of TV in Europe
Légende Notes: The reach of Digital TV in Europe has reached 55,6 million households /tv in 2005 (33.3%).
Crédits Source: ITMedia Consulting
Fichier image/jpeg, 60k
Titre Figure 12.4. Penetration of Cable in Europe (2005)
Crédits Source: Screen Digest / Cable Europe Yearbook.
Fichier image/jpeg, 88k
Titre Figure 12.5. Triple-play model (2005)
Légende Notes: Earnings of the cable platforms in Europe: 17,2 billion euro, 2/3 of which from TV services.
Crédits Source: Screen Digest / Cable Europe Yearbook.
Fichier image/jpeg, 40k
Titre Figure 12.6. Free market media model
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Figure 12.7. PSB model
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k


Gianpietro Mazzoleni is Professor of Political Communication at the University of Milan. He is editor of the Books Series in Political Communication of Hampton Press, and serves in the editorial boards of European Journal of Communication, Political Communication, Journal of Press/Politics and the Italian scholarly journal Comunicazione Politica. He was a Chair of the Political Communication division of the international Communication Association (2005– 2006), and of the Euromedia Research Group (1997–2005). His research interests focus especially on media policies and political communication. E-mail:

© Central European University Press, 2010

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